What is Entrepreneurship?

This post is a response to Joseph’s comment on ‘why promote entrepreneurship?’ and an attempt to describe some aspects of entrepreneurship.

Jospeh, 

That we agree on the virtues is good.  We could, as you say, stop there and consider the debate as a quibble over vocabulary.  However, I too think that vocabulary is important and I suspect that it reveals here an important difference in our positions.  I must, therefore, attempt to defend the term entrepreneurship over, say, cooperative or community action and to challenge your suggestion that it is a contrivance.  I want to offer some suggestions as to what I consider lies behind the term entrepreneurship.  The qualities and ideas behind entrepreneurship justify its use as a ‘dominant language’ in the education of citizens and make it particularly suited to twenty-first century education.

Entrepreneurship empowers individuals. Entrepreneurship shows that individuals and ideas change the world.  You mentioned ideologies, we could similarly talk about structures, but I believe the very point about entrepreneurship is its ability to affect change despite prevailing ideologies, structures or attitudes.  You could call it a faith in the individual’s capacity to change his situation. This in itself is noble.  In the context of the kind of children we have been teaching; with low confidence, little initiative, an underdeveloped capacity for independent learning, low expectations etc. the development of an entrepreneurial attitude is absolutely vital.  I would argue for the promotion in schools of entrepreneurship because, I suggest, it teaches the kind of pro-active attitude, and capacity for the kind of life-long learning, that is necessary for fulfilled adulthood (even in the narrowest sense of economic fulfillment).

Entrepreneurship is about change.  It is about individuals driving change, but it is not restricted to individuals.  In this respect I can see where there is much in common with community activism.  When courageous individuals step forward, they encourage others to.  There are countless examples on the ‘Ashoka’ website of how social entrepreneurship, through enacting change, can help develop a citizen sector that is not cowed by existing structures.

Entrepreneurship is, therefore, optimistic.  Entrepreneurs necessarily hold a belief that problems can be solved.  There was an implication in your post, which I am probably reading too much into, that to solve the environmental crisis we need to ‘sit still’- perhaps even to retreat to a pre-modern existence.  What a pessimistic view of human potential.  There are many ways in which environmental and other current problems may be solved.  I suggest none involve ‘sitting still’; rather, problems are solved by looking forward, by bringing about change, by the transferring of resources to become more effective. 

In your final paragraph, I think you were contrasting entrepreneurial virtues with others by implying entrepreneurial virtues are, perhaps, ‘active’ as compared with ‘contemplative’.  Let me agree with this to an extent (although you cannot be an entrepreneur without the ability to analyse).  I am passionate about the importance of sometimes sitting still (literally) and particularly of reading and writing as, more than just being communication skills, helping develop the ability to be reflective and contemplative.  However, there is too much directionless sitting still in our education system. If we focused on purposeful sitting still, we would have ample time to teach ‘active’ entrepreneurial virtues, without crowding out anything of worth.  Furthermore, I suggest the last thing that education should be is ‘sobering’.  Education should be electrifying; it should be about stirring up, inflaming, calling to action – not, god forbid, sobering.

So, what I have said so far is that entrepreneurship is about empowering individuals, is about change, is optimistic and requires action.  I have no problem, moreover, in adding to that list Tony Blair’s definition:  ‘someone who brings to social problems the same enterprise and imagination that business entrepreneurs bring to wealth creation’.  What basis could you have to disagree with that definition? 

  1. That business entrepreneurs do not show enterprise and imagination?
  2. That business entrepreneurs have not been phenomenally successful at wealth creation?
  3. That if we turned those successful methods towards social justice greater results might not be achieved?

I think you object to the language of social justice using business analogies.  Why? You must accept that capitalism has been an extraordinary force in maximizing human creativity and efficiency and since the industrial revolution drastically improving life expectancy and quality of life across the world.  In many aspects of its current form, of course, it is failing adequately to tackle social justice.  Social entrepreneurship is not about supporting business in its current form but recognizing the achievements of the current capitalist system and attempting to use them to rectify its failings.  Yes, entrepreneurship recognizes the realities of economics, of the capitalist system and of the utility of responding to needs.  This is why, I suggest, social entrepreneurs use language in many cases analogous to business – and I support that.

This discussion is important and I value comments on it.  I want to discuss and attempt to defend the concept of social entrepreneurship.  If it is, as I believe, an important and current force for change, then surely we should more actively promote it in schools?  However, whatever our opinion of its contemporaneous importance as a social movement or phenomenon, I suspect that the qualities of entrepreneurship tie closely with a broader understanding of fulfillment and the transition of childhood to adulthood.  Perhaps this is the more significant consideration?  

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